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Fallston residents sue Jones Junction, BGE and County

Three Fallston couples have lawsuits pending against Harford County, the Jones Junction auto dealership, BGE and a real estate company over lighting on a Jones Junction Property near Fallston that they say has disrupted their quality of life for more than a year.

The dealership believes it has done its share, cooperating with the residents and making changes to its lighting, moves the county government agrees is sufficient, which led to the closing of a zoning violations case involving the lighting.

In addition to suing the three companies for injunctive relief and $2 million damages in counts of negligence and trespassing, the plaintiffs filed a mandamus lawsuit designed to compel the county to uphold zoning laws.

"Unless restrained by this Court, the Defendants will continue to light the property in a manner that causes light spillage onto the Plaintiffs' properties," the lawsuit filed in Harford County Circuit Court states.

Since the suits were filed in August, the county has closed its file on the matter, determining actions taken by BGE and Jones Junction sufficiently addressed the problem.

A spokesman for the dealership, which sells multiple makes of cars and trucks and stretches along both sides of Route 1 in the community of Benson, said Thursday the company has been cooperative and has taken steps to address the neighbors' concerns.

In June 2010, according to the suit, Ban Real Estate acquired the former Hinder Lincoln-Mercury dealership on Belair Road (Route 1) just north of the Benson intersection. After the acquisition, Jones Junction opened a Subaru dealership, expanded parking lots, installed new outdoor lights and removed "extensive amounts of the existing tree buffer" between the business and the Woodbridge Manor community, the suit alleges.

BGE owns the lights, which were installed on the Jones Junction property in September 2010, according to the suit.

Donna and Frank Hines, Brian and Therese Hirsch and Thomas and Patricia Orndorff, each with addresses in the 1300 block of Terry Way in Fallston, claim the diminished barrier and bright lights have created an ongoing problem, the suit alleges.

Their properties are north of the dealership and separated from the Jones Junction property by woods. But, the homes are also positioned higher than the dealership and the bright lights shine into the dwellings at night, according to the suit.

"After sunset, the outdoor lights from Jones Junction are so bright and intrusive that the Plaintiffs can sit on their decks and read without the need for artificial light," the suit alleges.

The suit cites a diminished quality of life, the need to move bedrooms, inability to sleep and lack of privacy for the residents all because of the lights.

"It's been an absolute miserable situation for them," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Robert S. Lynch, with Stark & Keenan in Bel Air, said Wednesday.

Lynch, who is also a former director of planning and zoning for Harford County government, said his clients are balanced, reasonable people who are frustrated by the lack of progress and are seeking relief.

Lynch explained the residents reached out to the dealership, BGE, Harford County council members, the county executive, the department of planning and zoning and anyone who would listen in efforts to get the lighting issue resolved.

Jones Junction and BGE installed shields on the lights, but the suit alleges these shields did not resolve the lighting problem.

After nine months, the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning issued a zoning violation notice to Jones Junction and Ban Real Estate in May 2011 requiring them to use lighting "designed and/or controlled in a manner in which any light shall be shaded, shielded or directed as to not adversely affect the operation of vehicles, or reflect onto adjoining residential premises or buildings," the lawsuit states.

"We're not trying to put them out of business we are simply trying to get them to redirect their lights onto their property," Lynch said.

On Sept. 30, the county closed its case on the zoning violation, an action Lynch says is unacceptable.

Meaghan Alegi, with the Harford County Law Department representing the Department of Planning and Zoning, explained BGE and Jones Junction made further lighting adjustments Sept. 20. She said the lights were angled further downward and metal shields were added to the lights.

A zoning inspector went during daylight hours Sept. 21 and after sunset Sept. 22 and noted the changes greatly reduced the impact on neighboring residential properties and the review committee reviewed his reports and photographs before closing the file.

"It was determined that they do not adversely affect the properties anymore," Alegi said.

Lynch, however, said no one reached out to the residents before deciding the problem had been solved.

"That's the position of the county, but you know clearly that's unacceptable," Lynch said.

Steven Freeman, who represents Ban Real Estate and Jones Junction, said the lawsuit was unexpected. He explained Jones Junction had been working with the county, BGE and the residents to solve the problem and had not completed the process before the suit was filed.

"The dealership has been working closely with the county to resolve any questions having to do with lighting," Freeman said.

He explained the businesses wish to be good neighbors and have continued to make every effort to alleviate the problem

"We have done nothing but cooperate from the beginning and that's something we would like to continue to do," Freeman said.

He said while discussion of potential solutions was still in progress, the lawsuit was filed.

"We were surprised by the filing of the lawsuit especially since we were in this ongoing cooperation," Freeman said.

He said the county closing the violation case file is a good sign and he hopes the matter will be dropped.

"No one can fault us for consistently trying to make everyone happy," Freeman said.

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